Rhea opened her eyes to find Neytiri rolling up the tent and packing her backpack. Jay bent beside her, taking sandwiches out of his pack. Alek was sitting off to one side, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
Rhea sat up and looked around. “Sorry.” She felt embarrassed to have been the last to wake up.
“Don’t sweat it,” Jay said with a kind smile. “Here.” He tossed a sandwich in her direction and not until she bit into it did she realize how hungry she was. She was sued to getting snacks whenever she wanted by simply walking into the dining hall ofNightMareSchooland ordering something. The idea of only having three sandwiches a day was beyond her.
She looked at Neytiri and Jay and noticed the muscles that rippled beneath both their shirts. They were lean and fit from years of traveling, hunting, and eating only when the needed to.
“Ready to head out, troops?” Neytiri asked, standing up and swinging her backpack onto her back. Jay stood up beside her and swung on his on pack. Alek stood up shakily, sleep evident in his eyes.
Rhea stood up and grabbed her own backpack and followed her friends out of the clearing. As they walked, Rhea noticed that the shining lake was much larger than she had initially thought. It stretched so far that she could barely see the other side. In the winter season the trees were bare of leaves and the shore was white with recent snow.
“We’re lucky that the snow has kept ahead of us,” Jay commented from where he walked beside Neytiri. She nodded in response.
“Now,LakanaLakeis the location of the first crest. So everyone keep their eyes open and mention anything that looks out of place or at all crest-like,” Neytiri ordered.
“What exactly are these crests supposed to look like?” Rhea asked, hurrying to catch up with them. She walked beside Alek, directly behind Neytiri and Jay.
“I have no idea. Though I would assume they would look …impressive. They are supposed to be super powerful, right?” Neytiri replied.
“What about that cave over there?” Alek pointed at the lake. Rhea turned and looked. In the center of the lake was a tiny island with a small cave in the center of it.
Neytiri sighed in exasperation. “Seriously? Right in the middle of the lake?” She swung her pack off her back and set it on the ground. “You guys stay here and watch my back. Tell me if some sea serpent tries to come after me or something.” Before Rhea could reply, Neytiri had dived into the lake and begun to swim toward the island.
“Tiri!” Jay cried. He moved as if to follow her, but stopped himself and sighed, shaking his head. “You simply can’t tell that girl what to do.” He watched her form intently as it drew closer to the island.
Rhea watched as Neytiri came out of the water onto the island and waved at them. She then turned and entered the cave.
Rhea felt as though an eternity passed before Neytiri came back out. Finally her form appeared outside the mouth of the cave. She was holding something on a chain and she waved it at them before sticking it into a pocket of her cargo jeans. She dived back into the water and began swimming back toward them.
Jay was watching the water intently.
“What’s wrong?” Rhea asked.
“It seems too easy,” he replied.
Just then, a large shadow appeared in the water behind Neytiri. Neytiri stopped swimming and looked back. Right then, a large serpent burst out of the water. It was green with blue stripes racing from its long snout back to tail. Spikes ran along its back and large razor sharp teeth came close to tearing Neytiri to bits. She quickly swam out of the way just in time.
Rhea called her name and heard a splash at her side. She turned to see Jay had dived into the lake and was speeding toward Neytiri.
Rhea held up her hands and tried to use magic to combat the serpent. She halted its movement and froze it in midair as Neytiri swam toward the shore. Jay reached her and shot an arrow at the serpent’s head then turned and helped Neytiri swim away. Rhea felt her diminished power begining to drain. She gasped and let go of her hold on the creature. As soon as she did, it slammed into the water and the impact pushed Neytiri and Jay toward the shore.
They reached the shore just as the serpent’s head appeared at the water’s surface again. It roared in anger.
“RUN!” Neytiri cried as she hit the shore and ran to Rhea and Alek. Jay was right behind her. He glanced back and saw the serpent heading their way.
“Get moving!” Jay cried, speeding Alek along. Rhea turned away from the lake and ran. They raced to the edge of the Sekai forest and stopped. Rhea turned back and saw the serpent had stopped at the lake’s edge, not leaving the lake.
“We’re lucky it was a sea serpent and not an amphibious one,” Jay commented, catching his breath.
Neytiri punched him in the arm, a look of cold fury on her face. Water streamed down her face and her long black hair hung in clumps at her side. “Why in this world did you get in that lake after you saw the serpent?”
Jay looked away, water streaming down his face. His long brown hair had been flattened to his head by the water. His green gaze swiveled around and finally landed back on Neytiri. “Sorry for worrying about you, Batgirl,” he replied quietly.
Neytiri looked even angrier at hearing this. She growled and punched him again. “Don’t you ever,ever, do something that foolish again!” She whirled around and started stalking back to the lake.
“Where are you going?” Rhea called after her.
“To get our backpacks!” she growled in response.
“Cat lady’s angry,” Alek commented.
Jay laughed. “Cat lady is extremely angry.” He looked out at the lake. The serpent had gone back into the lake and the serenity made it seem as though the whole experience had never occurred. “Well come on, we better get our packs or she’ll throw them at us.” He went jogging off to join Neytiri and Rhea followed slower with Alek at her side.
Maybe she was crazy, but when she had first met Neytiri and Jay she had thought Jay had taken an interest in her. Now it seemed like he had given her the cold shoulder and preferred Neytiri. She supposed she couldn’t blame him. He had known Neytiri far longer than he had Rhea. But still…was it wrong of her to have hoped?
“Come on,” Neytiri growled at her as she approached. Neytiri was holding out the chain she had found in the cave. “It’s supposed to glow. And there it goes.” As she held it out to Rhea, the gold locket hanging from the chain began to glow a dull golden. “Here, this one’s yours.” Neytiri held it out to Rhea and Rhea took it reverently.
She held it up to eye level and noticed the little runic symbols etched into one side of the little circular locket. “What does it say?” she asked no one in particular.
“It saysAstraii qita con mitiashia yta shrukanra. ‘The witch of kindness and determintation.’” Neytiri grabbed her backpack as she translated and began walking. “Come on troops, time to head for theKatakanMountainrange.”
Rhea was staring at the locket intently and rushed to catch up with the others. Kindness and determination? Were those her attributes? Was the locket specially designed for her? She looked up and noticed Jay looking at her. She blushed and stopped staring at the locket. Instead she placed it around her neck and enjoyed the warmth it sent into her body as it rested against her skin.
She looked at Neytiri’s back and wondered what the dark haired Hunter was thinking. She had just risked her life going after the locket and had translated an ancient language as though it was no big deal. Rhea found herself wondering once again who this strange and exotic girl really was.
She looked up past Neytiri and saw that the Katakan range had come into view ahead of them. She felt like time was running out. They had been away from the school for two days and the Darkness would easily have attacked by now. They needed to quiken their pace and get back to the school as soon as they could.
Rhea thought about Alexia, Myst, Zendaya, and Araminta. What would she ever do without them? Had Alexia noticed Alek’s disappearance? Had Berret gotten the intruder out of Zendaya’s body? What were they all doing?
Rhea sighed. Thinking about her friends was giving her a headache. There was nothing she could do to help them right now, and if she didn’t stop thinking about them, she might explode.
Instead she set her gaze on theKatakanMountainsand focused on getting there.